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What Is Moroccan Stew?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 16, 2024
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Moroccan stew, also called tagine, is a savory dish typically containing over a dozen herbs and spices as well as a wide array of sub-tropical vegetables. The word tagine refers to a cone-shaped, earthenware vessel in which Moroccan stew is traditionally simmered. Meat-eaters usually include small strips of lamb, though vegetarians can replace the lamb with chickpeas as a protein. Some varieties also include dried fruit and couscous or rice. Many Moroccan natives enjoy stirring a spoonful of yogurt into the dish before dining.

Tagines are the traditional container for cooking and serving Moroccan stew, which is why the stew often takes on the name of this container. These two-piece terracotta dishes usually feature a bowl-shaped bottom half that has a depression in its lip and a cone-shaped lid that fits seamlessly into the the lower portion. Steam and heat circulate inside the tagine, simmering the contents slowly and allowing all the flavors to mingle. Different types of tagines may be heated over a smoldering flame or inside an oven. They require very little heat to allow to cook a stew.

Cooks without access to a tagine may use a slow cooker or a large pot to make a Moroccan stew. The only requirements for these vessels are that they have a tight-fitting lid and can maintain a small cushion of air above the food. Moroccan stew must simmer for over an hour in most cases, so those with busy schedules may want to use a slow cooker in place of a tagine or pot.

Spices are one of the most important parts of a Moroccan stew recipe. They not only impart flavor, but also pull the flavors of all of the other ingredients together. The list of spices cooks may use is long and varied. Some common ones include cumin, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper, cilantro, curry powder, saffron, turmeric, cardamom, and paprika. Most of these spices are used dried and powdered, though many recipes call for fresh herbs. Cooks may use all of these spices in moderation, or play with just a few, in each batch of stew.

The vegetables in Moroccan stew are just as important and just as varied as the spices. Yellow onions, hard squashes such as butternut and acorn, and tomatoes are almost always included in a recipe. Green olives, red potatoes, dried fruits, and chickpeas, though traditionally used in this dish, are optional.

These vegetables are typically simmered in chicken or vegetable stock with the spices. Couscous or rice is cooked separately and added when the stew is almost ready. If the cook includes lamb, he or she usually cuts it into small slivers and adds it at the beginning of the cooking process. This way, the meat absorbs much of the stew’s flavor, is fully cooked, and doesn’t taste out of place.

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